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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/4/13

Should We Get Rid Of Ineffective Teachers Or An Ineffective System?

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First year teacher, teaching a lesson in a High School classroom.
First year teacher, teaching a lesson in a High School classroom.
(Image by US Department of Education)
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First year teacher, teaching a lesson in a High School classroom. by US Department of Education

Should We Get Rid Of Ineffective Teachers Or An Ineffective System?

By Ali M. Hangan


A recent Gallop poll, titled: In U.S., Newer Teachers Most Likely to be Engaged at Work found that teachers become less engaged in their work the longer they teach. The poll found that in the first year, 35 percent of teachers are engaged in teaching and dips to 27 percent between the 3rd and 5th years, then increases to 31 percent after the 10th year. The poll found that teachers are the fourth most engaged in their profession out the 12 professions polled. According to the Gallop poll analysis, it recommends that school leaders select the most talented new teachers and groom them into the profession.   

The Gallop poll conclusion seems to be supported, in part, by Randy Weingarten the President of the American Federation of Teachers, who spoke in front of AFT members recently taking the stance that an ineffective teacher, should be removed from the classroom. She was quoted as saying, "Teachers who have been given all possible support and are still struggling should not remain in schools, Keeping them there causes harm to everyone connected with the education system, from students, to principals to families and even the teachers themselves."

The Gallop poll conclusion makes a lot of practical sense based on the conventional narrative of the idealistic new teacher: The narrative goes something like this: A laid off professional that lives a "middle class" life decides to become a teacher and takes a job at an urban High School situated in a high crime neighborhood. The teacher is given a classroom filled with unruly students who have untapped talent. The first day of class the students' collectively cuss out the naive teacher and by the end of the school year each student is magically transformed into a creative genius that love their inspirational teacher, each student scores perfect on the advanced placement test and goes to Harvard. A new teacher that does not get every student to Harvard is ineffective, therefore, should be fired.

Contrast the narrative to what really takes place for many first year teachers in US classrooms around the country. New teachers are given little to no training to prepare for classes. They are given a classroom key, a teacher's edition to the textbook, a classroom with bare walls with graffiti laden desks and left to sink or swim.

The conditions that teachers must endure are partly created by incentives in the funding structure of school districts. Districts receive funds for each student by their state governments through the Average Daily Attendance  (ADA). More students equal more money for districts, more students in the classroom and more difficult working conditions for teachers.

Public school districts cannot refuse a student that meets the basic residency requirements and must be placed in a classroom whether they have grade level skills or not. Teachers, are legally bound to teach students in their classrooms, are expected to "figure out" the student with little information on the student's learning needs. Expectations that are out of reach, for a new teacher, while learning how to teach a class.

ADA funding is very unreliable for districts due the unpredictability of student attendance each school year. This is related to why new teachers face lay-offs every year. To sustain funding, districts look for other sources of revenue from State and Federal Government programs. These programs are often anchored to high stakes testing to maintain funding, data is collected from the student tests and used for accountability purposes to keep the funding streams coming into the district.

Districts do professional development, but the funding structure is linked to testing, whereas, professional development is a cost to the district. With scarce resources and little time during the school year, districts are compelled to make the Occam's razor's choice and focus more on testing and less on professional development.

Teacher prep and credential programs have, by in large, been responsible for preparing the US teacher corps for the trenches of the classroom, but new teachers do not seem to be getting much support from them either. A report on teacher quality published this year, pointed out that over the 1,400 teachers preparation programs assessed, the vast majority are at best mediocre.

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Ali Hangan is high school teacher in Pomona, California.

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